I was recently asked to be in a research study about the use of technology, in particular, using video conferencing when coaching. This invitation has got me thinking about my experience of the past three years using Skype and FaceTime with clients. Video conferencing (VC) has become a common way for coaches and clients to work together. What happened before VC? We have gone from the client lying on a couch in the psychoanalyst’s office, to sitting upright with the therapist (still in the office), to being on a computer screen anywhere in the world. Most of my psychotherapy experience, both as client and psychologist, has been sitting in an office facing my therapist, or client. Early on in my career I had phone sessions with clients. Many of the coaches coming to study with us, have been trained to do phone sessions. Now with VC, we can hear and see. The concerns regarding working this way include both the technical difficulties, as well as the lack of “connection” with the client. I have also been worried if there was an emergency during the session and the client was on the other side of the earth. How would I be able to assist them during this emergency? To allay my concerns, I have required that VC clients give me their home address, and the name and phone number of an emergency contact in their area. Here are a few things that have happened during my VC sessions that would have never occurred in the office. A male client in his 70’s is ready to begin a process with me. I ask him to get in a comfortable position and he says, “Oh wait, I have to turn off the news channel.” “What?” I said. “I always have the news on low volume in the background.” Okay so that was a surprise, I did not think that he would have had the television on, but I could not see it in the screen. Then we proceed and he is becoming deeply relaxed with his eyes closed and I ask him to nod when he has found a safe place of his own choosing. As I am observing him, thinking how calm and peaceful he looks, I hear him say, “Yes I am there now.” But I don’t see his lips move or his nod. That 2 minutes of observing this very peaceful man, was actually two minutes watching a frozen face. Another time I was working with a client who wanted to stop smoking cigarettes. It was our first session over Skype. As soon as we say hello, I see her take a cigarette to her mouth, and take a big drag, blowing smoke right into the screen. I immediately responded, (as I was shocked), “What are you doing? You wouldn’t do that if we were in an office. Please put that out. ” “Okay,” she says, and then proceeds to take a quick drag, before finally putting the cigarette out. We continued to work together on Skype for 4 sessions, and she successfully quit smoking. One of my clients, who recently moved to another state, didn’t consider ending our sessions because she knew that we could either Skype or FaceTime. Since she has moved she was able to show me her office and introduce me to her son. Several clients with who I have done VC sessions say they prefer coming to the office because it feels more personal. However when they are dealing with distance, young children, or unforeseen circumstances and can’t get to the office VC technology is very helpful. Of course picking up the phone, which sounds old fashioned is still an option as well. If you would like to discuss your coaching practice and using skype as a coaching tool please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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